Postpartum depression has become a catch all phrase for the mood disorders that some women experience after delivery or when a pregnancy ends. While research and clinical practice indicate the enormous variation of symptom presentation across many diagnostic categories, the stereotype of postpartum depression persists – the scarlet letter of the 21st century.
In the media, in news stories and among whispered tales in communities across America, the mother with postpartum depression is often depicted as an out of control, non functioning and seriously ill woman who cannot be trusted with her child.
Recently, much has been written about the media’s role in characterizing the extremely rare condition of postpartum psychosis as interchangeable with postpartum depression. We have lamented this clinically and medically erroneous sensationalism as adding to stigma and possibly preventing women from reaching out for fear of social judgment and condemnation. Just last week, ABC’s Private Practice website featured a damning poll questioning whether the psychotic mother depicted on the show had the right to even see her child. How could this possibly encourage a suffering mother to raise her hand? The prospect of hospitalization, steady decline into madness and potential loss of one’s child would hardly evoke self-identification even among women who desperately need immediate and strong intervention.
But there is another group of mothers disserviced by these regretful misrepresentations. And those are the women who may indeed have a pregnancy related mood disorder but think that because their symptoms do not equal the extreme drama portrayed in such stories, that they do not have postpartum depression. That their suffering is not sufficient to warrant intervention, help and compassion. These are the mothers who know that something is wrong, but compare themselves to these extremely rare depictions and think they are just “blue” and attempt to tough it out – week after hellish week.